Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Pac-10 (Part Two: #6-10)

Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Pac-10 (Part Two: #6-10)
Sep 26, 2008, 09:01 pm
Continuing to study the top returning NCAA prospects in the Pac-10, we move to part two of this analysis, where we find Cal shooting guard Patrick Christopher, USC power forward Taj Gibson, Stanford forward Lawrence Hill, USC guard Daniel Hackett, and Arizona forward Jamelle Horne.

-Top Prospects in the Pac-10: Part One
-Top NBA Draft Prospects in the SEC: Part One, Part Two, Part Three
-Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big 10: Part One, Part Two
-Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big 12: Part One, Part Two, Part Three

#6 Patrick Christopher, 6’5, Junior, Shooting Guard, California

Rodger Bohn

Christopher enters his junior season looking to build off of what was a very promising sophomore campaign. With the loss of Ryan Anderson and Devon Hardin to the NBA, there will certainly be plenty of potential for the scoring two guard to bolster his numbers in 08-09 for Cal.

Physically, Christopher has average tools for an NBA shooting guard prospect. Standing 6’5, with a somewhat narrow frame, albeit decent length, he is not going to blow anyone away with his size, and will probably have to get stronger down the road to reach his full physical potential. Athletically, he is certainly above average for the collegiate level, but again doesn’t really stand out as far as your prototypical NBA shooting prospect is concerned.

The Compton native can score in a variety of ways, making him a tough player to defend at the college level. He shows off a decent first step (especially going right), and uses his ball-handling skills when unable to beat defenders with his initial move. Once he’s at the rim, he lacks a bit of strength and explosiveness, causing him to finish at a fairly poor clip. Christopher shows off a nice variety of crafty floaters and pull-up jumpers from midrange when cut off, getting off the ground quickly with nice touch. He must improve the consistency of his pull-up jumper, though, as he struggles at times to get his shot off against bigger and more athletic defenders and looks very off-balance on his attempts.

Shooting the ball from beyond the arc is an area of inconsistency that plagued Christopher throughout his sophomore season. He has shown potential as a shooter with his deep range and effortless release at times, but is often hampered by his poor shot-selection and inconsistent fundamentals in others. The fact that nearly one third of his field goal attempts are three pointers makes this issue quite substantial, and a little more emphasis on shooting mechanics could certainly give him more consistent results. As of right now his 33% shooting percentages from beyond the arc will not cut it considering his shortcomings in other areas.

Patrick also struggles quite a bit when putting the ball on the floor with his left hand, which he did only 22% of the time in the games logged on Synergy Sports Technology. His first step isn’t quite as explosive when going towards his off hand and he often looks to go back towards his right after putting the ball on the pine initially with his left hand.

Christopher struggles on the defensive end due to his lack of fundamentals and occasional lapses in effort. There will be times where he appears to be a solid defender, perfectly containing his man in isolation situations. Then the next possession, he’ll look to only have marginal lateral quickness and no defensive principles whatsoever. The junior hurts himself by coming out of his stance a bit too much, and really seems to struggle fighting through screens. Considering his average physical tools, he must find a way to put much better effort into this side of the ball, as his problems will only be augmented going up against the superior athletes that the NBA is known for on the wing.

There is plenty of potential for Christopher to put up some excellent numbers offensively at Cal in his third season. His variety of scoring moves and ability to create his own shot will allow him to get his fair share of points consistently, despite the fact that he will now be the focal point of the Cal offense. By no means is Christopher a sure fire draft pick as far as the 2009 draft is concerned, but he is a player who scouts certainly will need to look at considering his production in the Pac-10. Not standing out in any particular area of the game, and not being the type of prospect who can hang his hat on possessing any type of outstanding upside, Christopher will have to become a much more complete player in all facets and find a way to achieve greater team success if he’s to separate himself from the pack and show that he can play in the NBA.

#7 Taj Gibson, 6-9, Junior, PF/C, USC

Kyle Nelson

Last year USC forward Taj Gibson saved his worst performance of the year for last (his 28 minute disaster-piece against Kansas State in which he scored 10 points on 1/5 shooting and fouled out in 28 minutes) and completed a season that he likely wants to forget. Unfortunately, Gibson is 23 years old and is quickly running out of time to show scouts that he can consistently play at an elite level. Next season he will have a good deal of opportunity. With O.J. Mayo, Davon Jefferson, and Angelo Johnson no longer on campus, Gibson is going to get a lot of touches and, considering the flashes he showed throughout his career, he could, should, and must have a much better season.

Physically, Gibson has not improved that much since his freshman year. He still is slightly undersized for the post at 6’9 and he still needs to work on his wiry 215-pound frame. At the next level, his athleticism won’t stand out, but combined with his aggressiveness and long wingspan, he should be a presence in the lane next year on both sides of the ball for the Trojans.

On the offensive end, Gibson’s scoring average dropped from 12.2 to 10.8 on about two fewer possessions per game, but his shooting percentage jumped up to 58%. That being said, it is essential that he assert himself more often on the offensive end next season. After all, he has some nice tools to work with including a solid post game and a developing face-up game. He gets 35.6% of his offense while single covered in the post, and shows nice quickness around the basket. He still could stand to improve his fundamentals in the post, but as evidenced by his 58% field goal percentage, we’re talking about a very efficient offensive player. He should look to improve his face-up game, namely his mid-range jump-shot, which has a significant hitch, and better ball handling could greatly help him improve his offensive versatility.

Defensively, it’s the same old story for Gibson. He’s a scrappy player, but needs to work on maintaining a constant focus on the floor and reducing his extremely high 3.5 fouls per game. He averaged an outstanding 2.5 blocks per game, largely because of his timing and length. One area of concern is his decreased rebounding numbers despite playing around the same amount of minutes. While some of the blame falls on Davon Jefferson’s added company in the paint, it is essential that Gibson continue to prove himself on the boards as well as a presence on the defensive end.

USC is going to be in an interesting situation next season. They’re without a true point guard and despite the presence of freshman phenomenon, Demar DeRozan, will rely significantly on veterans like Taj Gibson and Daniel Hackett to put points on the board. Similarly, if UNC transfer Alex Stepheson is granted eligibility, Gibson will have a lot less pressure in the post, and will finally be allowed to play his natural position of power forward. Simply put, regardless of the circumstances, Gibson must have a great year next year. As of now, he is a 23-year-old junior with a closing window of opportunity. If Gibson wants to get drafted, he is going to have to have a breakout season next year and show scouts that he’s capable of asserting himself and consistently playing at a high level.

#8 Lawrence Hill, 6’8, SF/PF, Senior, Stanford

Joseph Treutlein

After a breakout sophomore season, many were expecting Lawrence Hill to pick up right where he left off as a junior. Things didn’t quite work out that way, as Hill’s numbers went down across the board in both production and efficiency. With the Lopez twins coming into their own last season, Hill’s role took a large turn from what it was the season prior. In 06-07, he rarely saw his minutes dip below 28 per game, but in 07-08, the varied wildly from the teens to the low 30’s, with his place in the starting lineup also changing from night to night.

In analyzing the numbers provided by Synergy Sports Technology, the distribution of how Hill got his scoring attempts barely changed from his sophomore to junior season. However, his efficiency in jump shooting and post scoring both fell off significantly, which is why his FG% dropped from 51% to 41%.Hill netted 1.25 points per possession off jump shots as a sophomore, but fell to 0.96 as a junior. Likewise, he netted 1.04 PPP in the post as a sophomore, but just 0.40 PPP as a junior.

Watching extensive tape of his jumper from the two seasons, there really isn’t much noticeable change in his mechanics or execution. He has a great natural touch, but he’s always had somewhat of a “loose” form, taking a fair share of off-balance and fade-away shots, and not always bringing the ball up from the same place. That said, he has a quick and high release with a pretty consistent release point. In all likelihood, Hill’s shot isn’t as good as it appeared to be in his sophomore year, and isn’t as bad as it appeared to be in his junior year.

In the post, Hill just appeared to be really out of his element this season, not establishing good position, not selling his moves well, not looking very decisive, and often ending up taking a shot that didn’t like much more than the ball being thrown in the general direction of the basket. He also didn’t do as good of a job taking advantage of mismatches this season, taking smaller players to the post much less frequently. On the contrary, Hill does do a good job on the offensive boards, though, showing good timing and mobility, often streaking in from the wing to pull down a board from out of position.

One area where Hill did show progress is with his dribble-drive game, as he looked a bit more comfortable putting the ball on the floor this year, occasionally mixing in crossovers and spin moves, and showing flashes of taking his man both left and right. With his long strides and decent quickness for his size, Hill is becoming a much more formidable threat in this aspect of his game, though his handle is far from a finished product, still looking high and sloppy at times, while his ability to change directions with the ball still isn’t perfected. At the rim, Hill isn’t the most creative player, but has good touch and can go to lay-ups, floaters, and runners to get the job done, or even the occasional dunk, though he doesn’t have the body to power up over players very much.

On the defensive end, Hill is very much a tweener at this stage, not having the body to really challenge opponents in the post, and really lacking the lateral foot speed on the perimeter, getting beat frequently. Despite his length, he usually isn’t even able to recover in these situations, and his perimeter defense is a major concern in his efforts to convert to the small forward position.

With the Lopez twins gone this season, Hill will have a chance to reclaim his starring role for the Cardinal, and should once again have consistent minutes and touches in the rotation. This season he should look to return his shooting efficiency to what it was as a sophomore, and continue to improve on his dribble-drive game, which will be important for him to make it at the next level. He is someone who could come into second round discussions come draft time, and will be someone scouts and executives will look to see at the pre-draft camps.

#9 Daniel Hackett, 6-5, Junior, PG/SG, USC

Joey Whelan

After a sophomore campaign in which he showed impressive flashes of ability, including recording a triple-double on the road at South Carolina, Daniel Hackett will be expected to step up his play this season. O.J. Mayo and Davon Jefferson are gone, so in addition to running the offense, he will have to become a much more consistent scorer. A stress fracture he suffered in his lower back in February should be completely healed by this point, but may be something to keep an eye on in the early going.

At 6’5” and hovering around 200 pounds, Hackett has nice size for an NBA combo guard, although he’s not quite as athletic as you might hope. He played quite a bit of shooting guard last season, but with O.J. Mayo having moved on to the NBA, and Angelo Johnson deciding to transfer, expect to see him playing the point position much more this year. The extra time running the offense will only help Hackett’s chances of reaching the next level, as he already appears to have good instincts for making others better and certainly brings an unselfish approach to the game. Athletically speaking, Hackett is solid for the college level, showing good strength and the ability to get to the rim, but his quickness and leaping ability don’t scream draft pick. It’s pretty clear that he’ll have to make his case in other areas, mainly through production, versatility, showing great intangibles, and winning.

While not what you would call a scorer, Hackett’s offensive game revolves heavily around his ability to get into the lane and finish around the rim. He is strong and crafty enough to take most defenders to the basket, but he lacks a great first step or great explosiveness getting up around the rim. So much of his game is centered on getting inside position on his defender and then either trying to use his body to shield the ball on a shot attempt inside, or give a quick ball fake to draw contact. While this works a fair amount of the time, it also leads to some poor shot selection. Hackett does show solid body control, often able to adjust in the air based on what the defense gives him, and still get a good look at the basket. Where he has shown some promise is with his mid-range game off the dribble. Able to stop on a dime, Hackett can often shake defenders in this manner to set himself up for open looks. He has a tendency to make things harder for himself though, many times choosing to hop back and shoot, rather than simply pulling up for a jumper.

When he played off the ball last season Hackett tended to spot up on the perimeter, where he was a respectable 37.7% shooter from beyond the arc, but on a very limited number of attempts. The lefty shows pretty good form, but his release point is extremely inconsistent; there is a tremendous difference in his stroke when comparing open and contested shot attempts. When left open he can do some damage (3-5 against Oregon), but at just over two 3-point attempts per game last season, he isn’t one to pull the trigger unless he gets open looks, and even then it isn’t a guarantee he’ll shoot.

The transition game is where Hackett proves to be somewhat perplexing. While he struggles with any kind of dribble moves in the half court offense, once he gets out into the open floor, he becomes a much more effective slasher. He shows a good ability to change speeds and direction, while incorporating a pretty good looking spin move from time to time. With that said though, his decision making skills need to show improvement this season.

Hackett exhibits good vision in the half court offense, particularly when distributing off of screens, but when he is running the break he tends to throw caution to the wind. A large percentage of his turnovers last season came when he tried to force the issue with risky cross court passes in transition, many times throwing the ball away or having it intercepted by a defender. In addition, Hackett on plenty of occasions would pull up for a long shot attempt rather than looking for a better option. With more time running the show this season though these are things he should start to pick up on and fix in his game.

As a defender Hackett has proven to have some issues. USC ran a fair amount of zone last season and Hackett often looked lost in the rotations. Many times teammates would be forced to cover shooters in his zone because he had gotten caught up following another opponent. As an on the ball defender he proves to be pesky with quick hands, often poking balls away, but his lateral quickness is suspect. From what we’ve seen a quick jab and go is usually enough to shake him. Hackett has shown good anticipation skills, garnering just over a steal per game, often by jumping passing lanes.

At this point, Hackett is still very much an intriguing enigma. Prior to injuring his back last season he reached double figure scoring in 8 of 18 games, so it’s quite possible that we were not able to see the best of him just yet. We should also recall that he came into college a year earlier than his class, after choosing to graduate early.

His scoring numbers are likely to increase this season, though spending more time at the point and with the arrival of blue chip prospect Demar Derozan, will likely keep his point production from being very high. The biggest thing to watch will be if he can improve on his 1.49 assist to turnover ratio. He has the build and the developing court sense that leads us to believe he will at least be in the draft picture after his senior season, but Hackett must further develop his skill set as a point guard to improve his chances of reaching the next level. If things don't work out, he always has his very valuable Italian passport to fall back on.

#10 Jamelle Horne, 6-6, Freshman, SF/PF, Arizona

Jonathan Givony

Based off production alone, it’s very difficult to justify Horne’s spot on this list. After all, 3 points in 15 minutes per game is hardly the stuff legends are made out of, freshman or not. Still, the NBA draft revolves around what prospects can become in the future, not what they are now, and if we’re talking about prospects in the Pac-10, there are many reasons to give Jamelle Horne a long look.

His physical attributes would be a good place to start. Showing decent size standing somewhere between 6-6 and 6-7, with an excellent frame and wingspan, to go along with outstanding athleticism (a great blend of quickness and explosiveness), Horne fits the ball for what a modern day NBA small forward should look like, even if his skill-set does not at this point. The potential is obvious. Horne was a consensus 5-star recruit in high school, a borderline McDonald’s All-American who was ranked 30th by and 21st by

Playing almost exclusively at the power forward position as a freshman, out of necessity because of injuries and a severe lack of depth, but also because he just isn’t skilled enough to man the perimeter full time just yet, Horne is mostly a garbage player at this point. His production comes off a mix of transition baskets, offensive rebounds, cuts off the ball and emphatic finishes around the rim—relying heavily on his athleticism.

Showing the touch and confidence to knock down a mid-range jumper every now and then, his numbers from beyond the arc (2/15 on the season or 15%) tell you all you need to know about his range at the moment. His shot has a bit of a hitch in it, but it has some potential, and it wouldn’t be a shock to see him developing solid 3-point range at some point in his college career. In the rare opportunity that he would put the ball on the floor, Horne’s ball-handling skills looked extremely underdeveloped, eliminating any possibility of being able to create his own shot. To say he lacks polish is a bit of an understatement compared to most players we typically discuss. Getting stronger also looks like something that should be a major priority.

Defensively, Horne doesn’t have the best fundamentals you’ll find, but his terrific tools make up for many of his shortcomings on the collegiate level. His effort level looks solid, which mixed in with his length and lateral quickness make him fairly difficult to get by on the perimeter.

All in all, it’s obviously extremely premature to be discussing Horne as a legit NBA prospect, but it’s also evident that he will get his fair share of looks by the time he’s done at Arizona. The only question is whether he’s a four year prospect or we’ll see a big jump in ability earlier than that—something that’s not very easy to predict at this point. He reportedly has strong intangibles, which should help in that regard. Right now Chase Budinger likely has the small forward position on lock down, meaning it will be at least another year until he’s able to garner some real experience playing on the perimeter. Considering his size, that’s obviously the direction he needs to go in. Time is obviously on his side.

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